Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Hockey finale filled with one record, lots of respect

Gutter Snipes sweep Suns 10-9 (OT), 9-7

Express Staff Writer

The Gutter Snipes tried, but there was no stopping Sun Valley Suns wing Vilnis Nikolaisons (diving for the puck Friday night) on his way to the all-time Suns scoring title. Photo by Willy Cook

There's something about goalie/filmmaker Bobby Farrelly's East Coast Gutter Snipes that brings out some of the best hockey that Sun Valley Suns fans see each year on resort ice.

Last March's two overtime games between the Suns and Farrelly's Boston-based squad featured three-time Stanley Cup winner Igor Larionov and Boston's unforgettable overtime shootout win that spoiled the Suns' undefeated season.

Snipes goalie Farrelly, smooth-as-silk center Larionov and talkative Jeff Norton returned last weekend with a slightly different and better team. It would have been hard to duplicate last year's drama.

This time, the Gutter Snipes swept the Suns 10-9 (OT) Friday and 9-7 Saturday. The two-game series was more subdued. Spectator turnout was lower because of the Ski Tour's visit to the Sun Valley resort and there wasn't as much on the line with the Suns playing out the string of a sporadic season.

But there were some exceptional highlights at Sun Valley Skating Center in the season finale for the Suns (12-6-0).

The first was the record-breaking goal made by 10th-year Suns wing Vilnis Nikolaisons, who surpassed Bobby Noyes as the all-time Suns leading career scorer by making the final goal of the game and of the season Saturday evening.

The second was a terrific "Beat the Suns" contest Saturday night that featured both teams and disabled military veterans. It exemplified the respect shown between the two teams all weekend, and the respect they showed disabled veterans during "Beat the Sun."

Nikolaisons breaks the all-time scoring record

Nikolaisons, 35, first came to North America from his native Latvia in 1998. In 10 seasons during which he has missed maybe five games, the crafty 5-6, 160-pounder has quietly given Suns fans a clinic in his workmanlike approach and how to play the game of hockey.

In his 30th winter of skating, Nikolaisons is very much like Gutter Snipes center Larionov, 47, who is one of the finest playmakers ever produced in Europe. Both Nikolaisons and Larionov have unmatched situational skills and instincts.

For much of Friday's game, the Russian and the Latvian took faceoffs against each other. Nikolaisons was summoned into service at center because Jamie Ellison was becoming a father for the second time. Still, Vilnis was proud that he won about 50% of the faceoffs Friday against 27-year professional star Larionov.

Nikolaisons picked up a goal and two assists in Friday's 10-9 Suns OT loss and pulled within a point of tying 18-year Suns wing Noyes for the all-time scoring lead. He battled with Larionov, won a faceoff and swiped the puck into the crease for Cody Lampl, whose power play goal tied it 9-9 Friday.

On Saturday, Nikolaisons tied the record with a lead pass to defenseman Eric Demment, who fended off Norton's tough defense for a 4-3 Suns lead.

It was the final Suns lead because the Gutter Snipes reeled off four unanswered goals in five minutes for a 7-4 lead in the second period. Two more goals made it 9-4 and the chances for Sun Valley to score anything looked slim against Snipes back-up Dave Espley.

Indeed, Espley denied Nikolaisons' shorthanded try with 1:37 left in the second period.

Nikolaisons said about the Gutter Snipes 19-goal weekend, "Almost everything they could have scored, they scored. They controlled both games really well. And they brought a better team this year. It was definitely not a defensive series."

The Suns finally showed some life and legs with seven minutes left in a lost cause when captain Chris Warrington carried the puck down the right wing and dropped it to Demment, who ripped off a shot. Espley made the save but left the puck in the crease, and Jon Duval smashed it home.

One minute later, Warrington pushed the action again in the Gutter Snipes zone and Ryan Enrico picked up the puck. He passed quickly to Nikolaisons, who shot low, hard and accurately. "I was by myself in the goal crease and got the shot off," Vilnis said.

The announcement by Crash Ballou of Nikolaisons' record-breaking goal brought Suns players to their feet on the bench for a stick-pounding, high-five salute. It turned out to be the final Suns goal of the season, giving Nikolaisons 151 goals and 258 assists for 409 points, one more than Noyes.

Noyes, scorekeeper for Saturdays' game, said afterwards, "I'm honored to be in the same company as someone as skilled as Vilnis." In the locker room Nikolaisons received the weekend "George Jacket," presented by George Gund III himself.

Hopeful of a resolution to the tight scoring race in the Suns' season finale, Vilnis' wife Kathy brought along a bottle of champagne that was uncorked in the team's boisterous locker room. Characteristically humble about his feats, Nikolaisons said, "She was more prepared for it than I was."

Nikolaisons (12 goals, 23 assists for 35 points) won his second Suns scoring title in three seasons, and his fourth in 10 years. He was the only player to skate in all 18 Suns games.

It certainly was a weekend for well-seasoned veterans like Nikolaisons, Larionov, Norton, Dartmouth's Bill Kelleher, Canadian Reid Simpson. But the player who made the biggest impression was a speedy 20-year-old from Whitman, Mass.

Snipes wing Bryan O'Connell turned out to be the weekend's high scorer (4 goals, 3 assists). He scored three of the six Snipes goals in Friday's rally from 3-0, 4-1, 5-2 and 7-3 deficits. And O'Connell's no-look shot beat Suns goalie Ryan Thomson for a 8-5 lead late in Saturday's second period.

And how was O'Connell able to keep a cool head playing with such veterans—just three years removed from playing at Coyle and Cassidy High School in Taunton, Mass. and two years removed from the Castleton State (Vt.) Spartans?

O'Connell said, "(Jeff) Norton told me not to do anything fancy, just to play my game."

He did, effectively, and Larionov's shorthanded goal for his own hat trick in overtime made Friday a winning night for Farrelly's Snipes.

Disabled vets have a shot

With a classy player like three-time Stanley Cup champion Larionov in the house, there was considerable respect between the two teams all weekend. It wasn't exactly no-check, but physical play was limited. Officials whistled 36 penalty minutes in two games.

Saturday's benefit game for Sun Valley Adaptive Sports featured the most moving "Beat the Sun" ceremony in Suns history. All players on each team stayed on the ice and formed a tunnel of sticks and deep respect as disabled veterans took their turns trying their marksmanship on the net.

When pucks went wayward and lost their line, the Gutter Snipes on one side of the tunnel and Suns on the other would discreetly help the pucks toward their destination. At the side of the net stood Larionov, who would usher the pucks into the small openings. Score!

"That was special," said Norton on his way off the ice.

Check the Express Web site for the Gutter Snipes game summary and notes and updated Suns team statistics, plus season and all-time team stats.


2007-08 Sun Valley Suns

Final season statistics

(12-6-0 overall: 12-6-0 home, 0-0-0 away)

Vilnis Nikolaisons 18 12 23 35 10
Adam Swain 15 12 14 26 10
Chris Warrington 15 8 18 26 32
Ryan Enrico 16 11 13 24 16
Paul Baranzelli 14 12 9 21 29
Jeremy Mylymok 9 6 13 19 22
Cody Lampl 9 12 8 20 54
Jamie Ellison 13 6 12 18 46
Eric Demment 13 8 10 18 28
Jeremy Schreiber 15 5 13 18 28
Jon Duval 16 4 11 15 22
Charles Friedman 16 5 7 12 10
Ivars Muzis 14 4 4 8 28
John Stevens 11 1 7 8 6
John Miller 10 2 5 7 28
Cody Proctor 15 3 2 5 16
Kris Webster 16 2 3 5 12
Blake Jenson 6 0 5 5 4
Mike Hanson 4 4 0 4 12
Bryan Winkler 4 3 1 4 4
Ryan McDonald 3 2 1 3 0
Sinjin Thomas 6 1 2 3 8
Chris Benson 2 1 2 3 2
Trevor Thomas 14 1 1 2 30
Gunnar Gladics 10 1 1 2 0
Rian Timmons 9 0 2 2 6
Billy Cook 5 0 2 2 0
Josh Jacobson 13 0 1 1 27
Ryan Thomson 11 0 1 1 2
Michael Connor 2 0 0 0 2
Colin Zulianello 2 0 0 0 2
Tony Benson 1 0 0 0 2


Ryan Thomson 10.67 58 6/4/2000 5.44
Billy Cook 5 23 4/1/2000 4.6
Colin Zulianello 1.33 2 2-0-0 1.5
Tony Benson 1 4 0-1-0 4

Shots—Thomson 363, Cook 130, Zulianello 46, Tony Benson 26. Saves—Thomson 304, Cook 107, Zulianello 44, Tony Benson 22. Shootout saves—Thomson 2. Shootout goals allowed—Thomson 3. Shutouts—0. Empty net goals—0.

Opposition 25 32 26 4 87, 4.8
Sun Valley 40 46 37 3 126, 7.0


Two-goal games (15)—Ryan Enrico 3, Paul Baranzelli 3, Eric Demment 3, Cody Lampl 1, Vilnis Nikolaisons 1, Mike Hanson 1, Chris Warrington 1, Charles Friedman 1, Jeremy Mylymok 1.

Three-goal hat tricks (or more)—Adam Swain 2, Cody Lampl 2, Vilnis Nikolaisons (4 goals) 1, Paul Baranzelli 1.

Game-winning goals—Adam Swain 1, Mike Hanson 1.

Power play goals (26-101, 26%)—Cody Lampl 5, Adam Swain 4, Paul Baranzelli 3, Jeremy Mylymok 3, Jeremy Schreiber 2, Chris Warrington 1, Mike Hanson 1, Cody Proctor 1, Chris Benson 1, Eric Demment 1, Ivars Muzis 1, Ryan Enrico 1, Bryan Winkler 1, John Stevens 1.

Power play goals (opposition): 25-118, (21%).

Suns shorthanded goals (8)—Adam Swain 2, Mike Hanson 1, Vilnis Nikolaisons 1, Paul Baranzelli 1, Ryan Enrico 1, Chris Warrington 1, Cody Lampl 1.

Shorthanded goals (opposition): 4.

Season penalty minutes: SV 500, opponents 431.



Total record: 12-6-0

Record in 1-goal games: 3-3-0

Record in overtime: 1-2-0

Games scoring 9 or more goals: 6

Games scoring 7 or more goals: 9

December 14 (H) Sun Valley 9, Park City Silver Kings 8 (OT)
December 15 (H) Sun Valley 5, Park City Silver Kings 2  
December 28 (H) Sun Valley 6, McCall Mountaineers 3
December 29 (H) McCall Mountaineers 7, Sun Valley 4
January 4 (H) Sun Valley 10, Utah All-Stars 3
January 5 (H) Sun Valley 8, Utah All-Stars 5
January 11 (H) Innisfail Eagles 7, Sun Valley 6 (OT shootout)
January 12 (H) Sun Valley 5, Innisfail Eagles 3
January 25 (H) Sun Valley 9, Rossland Warriors 1
January 26 (H) Sun Valley 13, Rossland Warriors 4
February 15 (H) Team Utah 6, Sun Valley 5
February 16 (H) Sun Valley 12, Team Utah 5
February 22 (H) Sun Valley 8, Missoula Cutthroats 3
February 23 (H) Sun Valley 4, Missoula Cutthroats 3
February 29 (H) Sun Valley 5, Jackson Hole Moose 4
March 1 (H) Jackson Hole Moose 4, Sun Valley 1
March 14 (H) East Coast Gutter Snipes 10, Sun Valley 9 (OT)
March 15 (H) East Coast Gutter Snipes 9, Sun Valley 7

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